Interdisciplinary Initiative at the Walker, 2016–2020
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What do we mean by the term interdisciplinary? At the Walker, an art center committed to showcasing the art of our time, this term describes our mission to follow the artists and to allow our program to embrace ways that many contemporary practitioners work, which since the 1960s has often meant loosening boundaries between artistic labels—painting, film, dance, performance—in favor of a more open and flexible view toward the art experience itself.

Building on this approach, the Walker’s multiyear Interdisciplinary Initiative, made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, specifically supports the institution’s commitment to artists working at the intersection of the performing and visual arts, both making work and presenting it across gallery, stage, and public space. The initiative has also supported the Walker’s exploration of new approaches to the documentation, conservation, and acquisition of interdisciplinary artworks. As part of the initiative and evidenced on this website, the Walker has advanced scholarship and research; worked toward modeling new directions for curating, commissioning, developing, and presenting the work of interdisciplinary artists; continued efforts to strengthen the interpretation of interdisciplinary works in the museum’s collections; and charted new approaches to audience interface and engagement across platforms. Highlights of the program (2016–2020) include eight newly commissioned artworks or productions by a diverse range of artists, several of which were subsequently acquired for the Walker’s collection; a series of dynamic online publishing projects, including two new volumes of the Living Collections Catalogue and the production of a series of new video documents showcasing key interviews with participating artists.

The Walker’s world-renowned collections feature generations of artists whose works expand the possibilities of art through the merging of disciplines, while its program has continued to redefine genres through the commissioning and presentation of new projects. The Walker’s long history with such innovators as Joseph Beuys, Trisha Brown, Merce Cunningham, Cynthia Hopkins, Ralph Lemon, Sarah Michelson, and Adrian Piper, among many others, make it an ideal institution to forge new platforms and build a shared vocabulary and responsibility in response to the evolving practices of today’s artists.

Three crucial and interrelated areas of work, focusing specifically on the intersection of performing and visual arts, are included in Interdisciplinary Initiative:

Designed to broaden and deepen institutional understanding and capabilities, the research initiative involves circles of curators and key scholars who help the Walker develop skills to better serve a national field going forward. Emerging curators receive training working with interdisciplinary artists and art forms and also travel to conduct research. Engaging colleagues in the field at large has been critical to the initiative, which was envisioned as a multilayered approach. Participants bringing a diversity of voices, backgrounds, areas of expertise, and perspectives have helped to guide and inform the process, including Adrienne Edwards, senior advisor and curator at large (currently Engell Speyer Family Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York); Walker interdisciplinary fellows Simone Austin, Danielle Jackson, Gwyneth Shanks, and Allie Tepper; a four-person Think Tank comprising Charles Helm (former director of performing arts at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio), Judy Hussie-Taylor (executive director and chief curator of Danspace Project, New York), Jill Sterrett (deputy director, Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago), and Lydia Yee (chief curator, Whitechapel Gallery, London); and others.

Enhancing the ability to support artists working in the interdisciplinary realm is a key focus area of the initiative. Artists primarily trained in visual or media arts are increasingly interested in acquiring enhanced theatrical, design, development, and presentation skills to advance their work and practice. Similarly, artists with dance, theatrical, and performance art backgrounds are interested in developing work for gallery conditions and settings or in collaboration with visual artists. Over the arc of the initiative, the Walker has produced commissions and projects that move freely between galleries, stage, and public spaces, supporting artists’ visions in the making of new interdisciplinary works. Projects realized within the initiative include pieces by artists Faye Driscoll, Theaster Gates, Maria Hassabi, Jason Moran, Rabih Mroué, Laure Prouvost, and Meg Stuart as well as the event Resonance: A Sound Art Marathon, featuring Tarek Atoui, Heather Barringer, Philip Blackburn, Jules Gimbrone, Walter Kitundu, Haroon Mirza, Mankwe Ndosi, Camille Norment, Matana Roberts, Christine Sun Kim, Craig Taborn, and Preston Wright.

Investigating how and when to apply museum-quality standards to the burgeoning field of presenting, commissioning, and acquiring interdisciplinary works and the artists who make them is an essential aspect of the Interdisciplinary Initiative. Such works may require uniquely developed forms of production, documentation, preservation, archiving, and collecting. Advancements in creating new models or ways of working in this area were made by taking an in-depth look back at selected works from the Walker’s collection and artist residency/commissioning history to reflect on their resonance for contemporary practice today. This research will be shared through the Walker Collections website and two new volumes of the Living Collections Catalogue, an innovative series of online scholarly publications.

Commissions & Presentations

Over the arc of the Interdisciplinary Initiative, the Walker has commissioned, produced, and presented eight new commissions and artist projects sited across galleries, stage, and public spaces.

Living Collections Catalogue

The Walker Art Center’s Living Collections Catalogue is a series of publications that presents unique archival materials, original interpretation, and scholarly essays on a variety of focused topics. These dynamic online volumes come alive with rich media resources about Walker presentations, artworks, and artists. With each new installment the Walker aims to create a publishing platform that will be of service to academics, arts professionals, artists, and art enthusiasts alike. Implicit in the concept of a “living catalogue” is the rich and layered nature of such a digital publication, and the design encourages a reader experience that blends the best qualities of the book, magazine, and online forms. With the release of each new volume of the Living Collections Catalogue, a project initiated in 2009 under the Getty Foundation’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative, the Walker continues to experiment with the evolution of this hybrid form.

As part of the Walker’s Interdisciplinary Initiative, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, two new volumes of the Living Collections Catalogue will be published. Each features new scholarship, commissioned writings and contributions, and extensive documentation from the archives, including images and video/audio recordings made available to the public for the first time. Volume III, available now, focuses on a range of performance-based artist collectives from the 1960s and 1970s, tracing a rich period of experimentation by artists with forms of radical collectivity and political mobilization. Volume IV will be released in June 2020 and centers on innovators of black avant-garde and experimental jazz production from the 1960s to the present.


As part of the Interdisciplinary Initiative, selected entries have been expanded in the Walker Collections: Art & Artists website. These materials were developed through extensive research into artistic practices and the Walker’s history of artist residencies and commissions. Each selected entry serves as an interdisciplinary case study and includes new essays and interpretive texts as well as the addition of materials from the Walker Archives. This phase of the project takes a focused look at works by Trisha Brown, Maria Hassabi, Meredith Monk, Jason Moran, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Robert Rauschenberg, Tino Sehgal, and Ron Vawter, creating an evolving new model for ways to enrich the viewer experience of interdisciplinary works in the Walker’s collections.